It was four years ago when Councilman Joseph Solomon introduced an ordinance to protect animals left outside by their owners in extreme climatic conditions. Last week, the governor signed into law a bill that would protect animals statewide, and advocates are calling it a triumph.
A tragic accident involving a dog that had been left outside in the extreme cold and subsequently froze to death caught the attention of Solomon in 2009.
“It touched a very sensitive nerve,” he said.
What worsened it for him was that, under current laws, there was no way the dog’s death could be seen as a prosecutable offense.
By putting an ordinance in place, Solomon thought, people would be aware of the dangers of leaving their pets outside in extreme weather conditions, or for too long without proper food and water.
The ordinance passed in the city roughly two years ago, and since then, Dennis Tabella, founder of Defenders of Animals, has been working in other cities to get similar ordinances passed.
Finally, legislation protecting animals in a similar fashion made its way to the State House, and was signed into law by Governor Chafee last Monday.
“It usurps all the cities’ and towns’ legislation that would be protective to animals,” said Solomon. “That’s a good thing for animals and animal lovers.”
Tabella said he has been getting calls for many years from people concerned about neighbors’ pets that have been left outside for lengthy amounts of time or in extreme weather. Tabella said the ordinance took care of things in Warwick, but left a lot of other cities and towns helpless. The new law, he said, ensures that animal control officers statewide have the tools necessary to protect the animals and ensure the owners recognize their actions come with penalties. Warwick animal control officers were not available for comment yesterday.
The bill sets guidelines and penalties for animal owners who do not provide adequate food, water or veterinary care for dogs. Owners are no longer allowed to keep dogs tethered for more than 10 hours a day, nor can they keep them in a pen, cage or other enclosed shelter for more than 14 hours a day.
The law also prohibits the use of choke-type or prong-type collars, or tethers that restrict movement to an area less than 113 square feet, or a 6-foot radius.
The law will not apply to dogs tethered or caged for medical reasons, or for reasons approved by animal control. Training and grooming facilities, boarding kennels, pet shops and livestock farmers are exempt.
Tabella said the legislation utilizes a scale created by Tufts University that bases the restrictions on the breed and size of the animal.
“It looks for what type of dog is outside, say a poodle versus a husky,” he said. “It’s fair across the board. It’s not one size fits all.”
The guidelines also take into consideration the overall health of the dog, and the climatic conditions to which it is exposed.
“It doesn’t prohibit anyone from keeping their dogs outside,” said Tabella. “
Those who violate the new law will receive a warning for their first offense. For secondary and subsequent violations, individuals will face penalties of up to 11 months in prison, fines between $50 and $500, or both. Each day of the violation will be considered a separate offense.
In addition to the companion animal law, Governor Chafee also signed into law two other animal protection bills for farm and livestock animals. Twin bills in the House and Senate prohibit the use of veal crates for calves and gestation crates for female breeding pigs in the state. The calves and pigs are often confined to tiny crates while on factory farms. The crates prevent the animals from lying down, standing up or turning around. According to a press release from the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), eight other states have already banned the use of these crates, including Maine, California, Florida and Arizona. Locally, 16 Rhode Island farmers came forward to support the prohibition.
Chafee also signed a bill prohibiting "tail docking," a practice involving the partial amputation of up to two-thirds of a cow's tail. The amputation is typically done with painkillers or anesthetic. Claims from some in the dairy industry say that tail docking is needed to help ensure cow cleanliness and udder health. Tail docking, say supporters, helps prevent leptospirosis, an infection commonly transmitted via urine. But scientific research from the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that tail docking bore no relationship to the transmission of infection. In addition, claims that docking improves udder cleanliness, increases milk hygiene and decreases tail injuries were also disproved by the same study.
The ASPCA said in a release that the practice causes cows pain, distress and results in increased fly attacks. Only a few states, including California and Ohio, have prohibited the tail docking practice.
Debora Bresch, Esq., senior director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Eastern region, is grateful to the Rhode Island General Assembly and Governor Chafee. She called the use of veal and breeding pig crates “cruel,” and said the tail-docking practice does more harm than good.
Bresch said she is unsure about the number of veal and pig crates being used in Rhode Island, or how many dairy farmers use the tail docking method.
She said it doesn’t matter whether a plethora or just a few farmers wish to use these methods; the ASPCA wants to prevent these practices and the subsequent cruelty to animals.
“We want to make sure it can’t be done currently or going forward,” she said.
In addition to backing the livestock legislation, Bresch said the new law regarding the safety of tethered dogs is a great step forward.
“Animals can’t advocate for themselves,” said Solomon. “They rely on humans.”